The history of liquor in the 15th century was one of gradual advance.
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Distilled spirit of gin was generally flavored with juniper berries. The result was known as junever. That is the Dutch word for “juniper.” The French changed the name to genievre. The English changed to “geneva.” They then modified it to “gin.”2
Russians liked their grain spirit without the juniper flavor and named it vodka, or “little water.”3 The name brandy was derived from the Dutch “brandewijn.” That means burnt (or distilled) wine.4
Distilled spirits were largely used for medicinal purposes. Their use as social beverages grew slowly at first.5
Liquor in the 15th Century
The first written reference to whisky appeared in the Irish Annals of Clonmacnoise.
- “The Dutch were probably the earliest to to distill drinks other than wine, when they made the first gins.”6
- “The first mention of a still in Sweden, where the first grain alcohol was made from beer, dates from 1469.”7
On his second voyage to the New World, Christopher Columbus planted sugar cane. It was at St. Croix in the Virgin Islands. This laid the basis for what would later become a booming rum industry.8
The distilling of whisky in Scotland appears to have been well established. In the Exchequer Rolls of 1494, King James IV of Scotland granted a large amount of malt. It was “To Friar John Cor, by order of the king, to make aquavitae.” The amount granted was enough to distill over 1,500 bottles of whisky.
The End of the Century
As the end of the century approached, drinking brandy recreationally rather than medicinally increased. This was especially true in Germany.9 Commercial production and sale had begun to appear.10
We’ve looked at liquor in the 15th century. Now it’s time to explore its story in the 16th century.
Resources: Liquor in the 15th Century
1 Hanson, D. Preventing Alcohol Abuse, p. 8.
2 Roueche, B. Alcohol in Human Culture. In: Lucia, S., (ed.) Alcohol and Civilization, pp. 173-174.
3 _______, p. 174.
4 Seward, D. Monks and Wine, p. 151. Roueche, pp. 172-173.
5 Watney, J. Mother’s Ruin: A History of Gin, p. 10. Doxat, J. The World of Drinks and Drinking, p. 98.
6 Sournia, J. A History of Alcoholism, p. 17.
7. ______, p. 16.
8 Ford, G. Short History of the Art of Distillation, p. 17.
9 Braudel, F. Capitalism and Material Life, 1400-1800, p. 171.
10 Forbes, R. Short History of the Art of Distillation, p. 97.